You didn’t see it coming when you signed the yearlong lease on your apartment five months ago, but for whatever reason – be it a new job in a different city, money troubles or a dispute with your roommate – you’re looking to move sooner rather than later.
Without a legal basis for doing so, breaking a lease can be difficult. Not only are you attempting to break a binding contract, but many landlords don’t like the prospect of giving up rent they were supposed to receive for a specified amount of time.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. There are multiple ways renters can terminate their lease – it’s simply a matter of documenting conversations and preparing to pay when necessary.
First and foremost, kindly approaching your landlord to discuss options could make for a much smoother lease termination than you may have expected.
“You’re in sort of a weak position, but it wouldn’t preclude me from going to the landlord and just engaging them in a very amicable basis,” says David Merbaum, an Alpharetta, Georgia-based attorney who specializes in tenant-landlord law.
In many cases, the landlord will offer options that work out best for both sides and also leave both sides as financially whole as possible. Of course, there are likely a few options your landlord will leave out as well.
You can break your apartment lease in the following situations:
- The lease includes an early termination clause.
- You’re active duty military, and are being relocated for work.
- You’re leaving a domestic violence situation, and your state includes laws protecting such victims.
- You find a qualified tenant willing to take over the remainder of the lease.
- Poor conditions make the space uninhabitable and you’re claiming constructive eviction.
- You’re willing to pay rent until the landlord finds a new tenant.
The lease allows it. Before you start panicking about how to get out of your apartment early, go back and read your lease. “The safest method is to check the lease itself,” says Ron Thomas, an attorney specializing in tenant law in Arizona. “A lot of times it will have an early termination clause and … the tenant can exercise that clause to break the lease early.”
Thomas says many clauses in Arizona leases require a 60-day notice and two months’ rent, which is a small price to pay to cancel the contract. In other cases, the clause could require you to continue to pay rent while the landlord looks for a new tenant or have you surrender your security deposit.
If there is no early termination clause, you’ll have to examine additional options.
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You qualify for an easy out. If the lease doesn’t specify, you may be protected from owing money for breaking your lease by law if your situation falls under certain guidelines.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is a federal law that makes it possible for renters who enter active military service while a tenant to break a lease without penalty, as the service will likely relocate them.
In addition, many state laws dictate that a landlord cannot penalize a tenant who is a victim of domestic violence for breaking a lease.
The Landlord-Tenant Act in Washington, for example, provides this protection for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or unlawful harassment. To be relieved of all tenant obligations, the victim must provide his or her landlord with either the order of protection or a report from an official aware of the case, and take action to move out within 90 days of the noted date of the incident, among other details.
Look up your state's landlord-tenant laws to examine other possible lease-breaking scenarios protected by law. Sites like FindLaw.com, Landlordology.com and Nolo.com make it easy to search landlord-tenant laws by state, or you can reach out to a local tenant rights organization, tenant rights attorney or a local office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to speak with someone directly.
You find someone to take your place. An option your landlord might look favorably on is finding a tenant to take over the remainder of your lease. When done correctly, the arrangement works for all parties because a new tenant has the benefit of slightly cheaper rent than the current month’s market rate, and the landlord doesn’t have to spend time and money marketing the space.
To agree, your landlord will likely require the potential new tenant to qualify for the apartment through an application and credit check, as would happen with any new tenant.
“All of it has to be coordinated very carefully with the landlord,” Thomas says.
If it’s permitted where you live, you may also be able to simply sublet the space. However, this means you’re still on the hook for the apartment should the subtenant stop paying or damage the property. That’s not to mention the possibility that illegally subleasing the space could lead to eviction, which can wreak havoc in your rental history for future leases and damage your credit report.
You consider poor conditions to be constructive eviction. If your landlord has been neglecting to properly maintain your home, all residents have the right to vacate a property that is uninhabitable.
Broken toilets, faucets, lack of electricity and unsecured windows or doors can be a danger to your health and safety, and if the landlord does not respond to your requests for repair in a reasonable amount of time, you can claim the conditions constituted as constructive eviction.
“I would never tell anybody to stay there and continue to pay the rent knowing they don’t feel safe,” Merbaum says.
There is a good chance this form of lease termination will take you to court, so be sure all requests for maintenance, notices for intent to vacate and any other communication with your landlord to are well-documented. Dated emails, notes of when phone calls took place and a log of when the landlord appeared for repairs will help argue your case in court.
Because wording on notices and claims of constructive eviction can be tricky, consider hiring an attorney – even if it’s just to help you write the letter to your landlord– to avoid having to owe money on a technicality.
Pay until the space is relet. When all else fails, notify your landlord of your intent to move out and follow through with your plan. Expect to pay at least a few months’ rent, but your landlord will likely find a new tenant for the apartment shortly, which will absolve you of responsibility.
In many states, the landlord is required to attempt to re-rent the space after you’ve moved out. “The landlord still has an obligation to find a tenant in a reasonable amount of time,” Thomas says.
That “reasonable” amount of time is up to a judge’s discretion should there be a dispute that takes you to court, though landlords often see the benefit in marketing the space with a new, higher rent while still having the security blanket of your monthly rent until they find a new tenant.
8 Apartment Amenities You Didn't Know You Needed
Renting is in, and so are amenities.
More people than ever are renting rather than owning, with more than 35 percent of Americans living in rented housing as of 2014, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. To compete with the growing number of rental opportunities in the U.S., many apartment communities are upping the ante with luxurious amenities that make living easier, more convenient and more fun. While resort-style pools, movie theaters and recreational spaces are becoming the standard, many places are going above and beyond to appeal to residents looking to rent in the area. Here are eight apartment amenities you never knew you needed – until now.Making fitness fun
Making fitness fun
Full fitness facilities, complete with treadmills, weightlifting machines and free weights, are quickly becoming standard for many apartment communities. Even buildings without space to accommodate a small gym often offer discounted memberships to nearby gyms. But at The Lorenzo in Los Angeles, residents get to take advantage of more recreational fitness options, with a rock wall and indoor soccer field on the premises. As off-campus student housing for the University of Southern California, The Lorenzo's student residents don’t have to worry about reserving on-campus facilities for a pickup game or quick climb in their free time.Water features for everyone
Water features for everyone
Pools are quickly becoming a staple for even midsize apartment communities. And while some aim for terrific views and lap lanes, others are reaching beyond their own walls. The Villages of Parklands in the District of Columbia, owned by property management and development company WC Smith, includes a splash park that's open to community residents and the surrounding neighborhood. “It’s something that’s not just a high-end amenity for people with lots of disposable income,” says Anne Marie Bairstow, vice president of marketing at communications at WC Smith.Tuneup space for two wheels
Tuneup space for two wheels
Particularly in major cities where parking can be expensive, residents take to bicycles for their commute to and from work as well as pedal around the city for recreation and exercise. AVA Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, owned by AvalonBay Communities Inc., helps its biking residents stay on two wheels with bike storage and a repair station, which includes a lift to make it easy to work on your bike and any tools you might need to make improvements and repairs. Residents take full advantage of the facility, says Juan Rodriguez, sales and service supervisor at AVA Little Tokyo. “The storage itself is pretty much always full,” he says.Pets as a priority
Pets as a priority
Pet-friendly apartments are in high demand for renters who want to ensure comfort for the furriest members of their family, but at 2M apartments in the District of Columbia, also owned by WC Smith, pet residents get their own representation. Emmy, an English bulldog owned by the property manager, is the official “pet ambassador.” She regularly draws residents into the management office for a quick pet and playtime while also highlighting the building’s pet-positive attitude and private courtyard for dog walking. “Dogs just make friends, and so everybody that has a dog knows the other dog owners, and it really helps to build the community,” Bairstow says.Living in a luxury hotel setting
Living in a luxury hotel setting
If you’re going to live in luxury, why not live like you’re in a high-end hotel? Residents at The Atlantic Midtown in Atlanta can opt to purchase concierge-arranged services, from housekeeping to dog walking to room service. While anyone can hire similar services themselves, the added hotel-like concierge service removes items from your to-do list and relieves the stress of finding the right vendor.Swinging for the greens year-round
Swinging for the greens year-round
Luxury communities throughout the country have been tapping into their residents’ love of golf. While some add small putting courses and even a sand trap or two, others go a little further. At AMLI River North in Chicago, owned by AMLI Residential, golfers don’t have to put away the clubs once winter hits. The community has a golf simulator for golfers to practice their swing whether it’s snowing outside or it’s tough to get a tee time at nearby courses.Facilities for your fruit of the vine
Facilities for your fruit of the vine
Forget wine bottles lining your countertop or even a wine cooler in your kitchen. Lincoln Property Company's Highgrove apartments in Stamford, Connecticut, appeals to wine aficionados with a private space for each residence in a climate-controlled wine cellar. The community confirms most residents take advantage of the wine cellar, which offers space for roughly 30 to 40 bottles per household. Thanks to this free amenity included with renting in the community, wine lovers avoid having to go elsewhere to store their favorite wines that are best served with a little extra care.An eye for art
An eye for art
As amenities like fresh coffee and business centers with free Wi-Fi draw residents into common areas, property managers and owners know they have to make the spaces as appealing and entertaining as possible – which is one reason curated art collections are popping up in luxury communities around the country. Communities like Jasper in San Francisco feature art throughout their lobbies, mail rooms and other common spaces. The art displayed in Jasper "tells a story of a contemporary San Francisco 21st century style with a nod to its film noir history," according to a statement from Jasper's art curator, Maria Di Grande. The collection includes commissioned collages as well as street photography.Read More
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Updated on Jan. 18, 2019: This story was previously published on Aug. 25, 2017, and has been updated with new information.
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Devon Thorsby | June 5, 2019
Homeowners should not fret, as long as they're prepared for the possibility of a downturn.